By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun, August 5, 2011
Aids regions hit by pine beetles, U.S. crisis
BC Hydro has approved $300 million in bioenergy projects in the Interior and north-central B.C., regions hard hit by the mountain pine beetle epidemic and the U.S. housing collapse.
The projects will help better utilize the abundant waste wood in the areas, B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman said Thursday. The four projects will also help generate economic activity and jobs, he said in an interview.
"I believe we have a huge bioenergy future in these regions," said Coleman, noting that there is also deteriorating old-growth timber in northwest B.C. that can be tapped for bioenergy.
Coleman said the power purchase agreements are competitive with other clean-energy calls, but couldn't immediately provide any numbers.
The power projects, scheduled to be complete by 2016, will produce enough electricity to power 70,000 homes annually.
The power plants will be fuelled by sawmill waste, logging debris and fibre from standing timber. There are vast tracts of deteriorating pine in the Interior and northern B.C., which increases logging and sawmilling waste. The dying, beetle-killed timber in northern and Interior B.C. was identified as a key underpinning to the B.C. Liberals' bioenergy strategy first outlined in 2008.
Western Bioenergy Inc. will build plants in Fort St. James in northern B.C. and Merritt, near Kamloops.
These two mills are the largest, accounting for more than 75 per cent of the power to be produced.
West Fraser Mills Ltd. will build two smaller plants at its sawmills in Chetwynd and Fraser Lake, also in northern B.C.
The forest-based communities have also suffered from a U.S. housing collapse, which reduced demand for lumber produced at their sawmills.
The bioenergy projects will create construction jobs and some permanent jobs, as well as work for loggers and truckers.
"In terms of jobs it's great," said Central Interior Logging Association manager MaryAnne Arcand. Loggers and truckers have been following the burgeoning bioenergy sector closely, said Arcand. The first stand-alone bioenergy plant in northern B.C. was just announced weeks ago.
However, Arcand did inject some caution, saying she is unclear whether there is enough wood fibre to run the new plants given the lumber market is in a slump and there are other users looking for the fibre, including wood pellet plants and pulp mills.
In 2009, BC Hydro approved the first slate of bioenergy projects, including power-producing projects at pulp mills in Prince George and Kamloops. With the latest four projects, BC Hydro has now signed purchase agreements with 16 projects to power 300,000 homes each year.
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